Economic crisis gives Europe, Central Asia chance to reach for social goals – UN

ILO Director-General Juan Somavia

11 February 2009 – The European and Central Asian region, facing an increase in unemployment of 8 million people, should use the present economic crisis to push for longer-term social goals, according to the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO).

“A social investment approach based on the ILO Decent Work Agenda offers immediate relief in terms of the generation of job opportunities and a basic social and economic floor of empowerment and opportunity to counteract rising poverty,” ILO Director-General Juan Somavia told the agency’s 8th European Regional Meeting on its opening day in Lisbon yesterday.

“But it also aims to strengthen economies for the future through training, a new infrastructure for a greener economy and support to small and medium-sized enterprises,” he told the gathering, which meets every four years to forge policies and set priorities for the area.

Citing recent ILO forecasts that global unemployment could increase by some 50 million due to the economic downturn, Mr. Somavia said almost 8 million of this increase, or one fifth of the global total, could be in the 51 member States in the European and Central Asian region, with nearly half coming from the European Union’s 27 member States.

Noting that the economic crisis is worsening still further “into a potential global social recession provoking tensions, political uncertainties and even possible security risks,” he highlighted six areas that governments, employers, workers and the ILO should concentrate on, including ensuring the flow of credit and stimulating demand; and extending social protection and employment policies with a particular focus on the vulnerable.

They should also support productive enterprises, particular the smaller ones; ensure that fundamental principles and rights at work are respected and promoted; deepen social dialogue; and maintain and expand development aid and other investment flows to vulnerable countries.

“The Europe and Central Asia region must play a leading role by dealing in a coherent way with its own different problems in different countries and also helping to construct a coordinated global approach,” Mr. Somavia said. “I think your region can play a special role in achieving much better policy coherence and regional and international coordination to avoid protectionist policies that might emerge.”

He added that the current crisis had exposed not only a global policy vacuum but also an institutional vacuum to confront this first recession in the era of globalization. “The foundation for our capacity to think and work together is our shared values and our common commitment to ensure a moral compass to the global economy,” he said.

“We will have to be extremely vigilant about a resurgence of political reactions to uncertainty and economic distress in the form of race and religious hatred, discrimination against immigrants or ethnic minorities, victimization of union representatives and protectionist economic policies that would aggravate the crisis.”


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